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December 13, 2023

Dare to stand out: How consumers perceive the 2023 John Lewis Christmas advert

December is upon us, and that means Christmas campaigns are filling up ad placements across the board. One certain comeback kid are those heartwarming, wholesome TV commercials trying to win over our Christmas budget.

“It didn’t get me right in the feels as some of their other ones. It was funny and it was very nice, but it wasn’t the usual level of Christmas tearjerker that I usually associate with John Lewis.”

If you’re living in the UK or Ireland, you will most likely have been exposed to this year’s John Lewis Christmas Advert already. The British department store brand switched agency for this year’s Christmas advert, for the first time since 2009. And it shows. So we decided to put their new TVC in front of a UK audience for qualitative insights on first impressions, reactions and possible improvements.

An unusual friendship

The commercial tells the story of an unusual friendship between a boy and a carnivorous plant. From buying and planting the seed early December, the boy nurtures it into highly unusual friend: A huge venus flytrap. As Christmas draws near, the plant is moved outside by the boy’s family, and swapped for a traditional Christmas tree. Saddened by the view of the secluded venus flytrap, the boy brings his plant friend a present. The family follows, and they end up opening their presents with a little help from the venus flytrap – and celebrating Christmas outside together. Let your traditions grow, the end caption reads.

We put the ad in front of real people through the GetWhy AI-powered insights platform – it took less than six hours from initiation of the study until the insights were wrapped for us and ready to go. Here are some of the results for you.

Initial impressions of the commercial

Consumers note humour and to a lesser degree emotional engagement as the first things to come to mind after watching the ad. Above all, they find it surprising, fun and different.

Consumers understand and follow the storyline, even though some of them really did not understand, why the venus flytrap was part of the story in the first place. But the element of surprise keeps them captivated throughout the full two minutes.

Briefly about the study:

  • 10 participants, 18-50 years (40/60 women/men)
  • Less than 6 hours from initiation to insights
  • Interview Method: Unmoderated, Think Out Loud

Togetherness in new traditions

Consumers note that the commercial held their interest throughout, driven by a desire to know what happens next in the story. They are drawn to the commercial’s originality, memorable characters, and the surprising and captivating storyline.

“It didn’t get me right in the feels as some of their other ones. It was funny and it was very nice, but it wasn’t the usual level of Christmas tearjerker that I usually associate with John Lewis.”

Consumers perceive the commercial’s central message as promoting togetherness and not excluding anyone during Christmas. They emphasise the importance of sharing the holiday with loved ones and creating personal traditions. 

Suggestions for improvements

The commercial is already airing, so naturally it is a bit late to adjust it. But we asked consumers to share their thoughts anyway. Here are some of the improvements, consumers suggested:

Consumers suggest a clearer connection to Christmas, and more explicit messaging in the end. Most of them would not mind having the brand behind the commercial emphasised more, actually they do recommend it, as it would help them understand the meaning of the commercial faster and better. Some consumers note that the ad does not necessarily incentivise them to shop at a John Lewis department store – which is a shame.

We do not know the process leading up to this finished TV commercial, but we see a general tendency to bring in qualitative insights early stage and iteratively as part of creative development. As time-to-insight has been brought down to as little as 4 hours, our clients test everything from initial idea to concept to storyboard to script and all the way up to the final commercial. This way ensuring that the ROI is well worth the media spend.

It’s a bit late for that now, but John Lewis, if you’re reading this, here’s a little Christmas gift from your consumers: Don’t be afraid to push a more commercial message as part of your next campaign.

Daring to stand out

Back to John Lewis. Consumers find the commercial’s message different and more effective than any recent commercials they have seen due to its relatable and not overly emotional style. They appreciate the twist. And they note that they do actually have a hard time differentiating past Christmas commercials.

“I could mention off the top of my head quite a few Christmas adverts. I would probably struggle to actually remember which ones were for which stores because they’re all similar.”

So what we’re seeing here might be an ad that is so different, so surprising that its storyline and the brand values attached to it will actually stick with consumers.

How Does GetWhy Work?
At GetWhy, we have spent the past four years building a proprietary generative AI. The key to its success is a digitalised dataset of 250,000 qualitative sessions that we have conducted in the past 10 years. Want to learn more? Book a demo here.

Wrapping up…

There are quite some takeaways from this test, but if we’d have to pick just one, it would be this: Dare to stand out to be remembered. As far as Christmas adverts go, John Lewis’ carnivore plant tale differentiates itself among the sea of tearjerkers. The usual emotive style – which was actually initiated by John Lewis and their former Ad Agency for the 2011 Christmas campaign – has been slightly updated to a more fun, surprising and engaging style.

This means that consumers might actually remember this ad, and tie its message of togetherness and family to John Lewis. This Christmas, and maybe even for years to come.

Some might argue that’s what branding campaigns like this one are all about. Seems like John Lewis’ new agency is up to a good start.